Overcoming the Challenges of Recruitment in Engineering

Feb 14, 2019

Engineering UK, an independent, not-for-profit organisation whose purpose is to promote the contribution that engineers and engineering make to the UK, have recently published Engineering UK: The state of engineering. Whilst 5.6million people in the UK are employed in engineering (19% of the UK’s total workforce), they report that developing the pipeline to address the skills needs of the engineering sector remains a key challenge. They estimate that 124,000 Level 3+ core engineering roles will be required to be filled every year for the next 10 years, against a backdrop of 46% of engineering employers reporting difficulty in recruiting. In a separate article published by Randstad, a recruitment agency, on a list of all engineering fields within the EU reporting difficulties in finding and recruiting the right calibre of staff, mechanical engineers are ranked seventh.#

Reliance Precision are no stranger to this, admitting that with the specialist nature of their work, finding engineers with the appropriate skills and knowledge is not always easy. Engineering UK conclude their report by stating that to address the severe skills shortage in engineering, the industry must effectively harness the talent pool of young people.

Reliance has long recognised this and has been working for many years to support and engage with young people in the local community.  A longstanding independent family-owned business, it prides itself on operating with the same family values and principles its founder, Mr Max Selka, instilled when he established the business back in 1955. His vision then was to provide employees with an opportunity for personal growth and development alongside enjoyable, rewarding and interesting work.

Still a prominent core value within the business today, the family includes within the company’s business plan a statement reinforcing their commitment to the company values and principles. It is committed to inspire innovation and encourage a Reliance family ethos which embraces social responsibility, in order to pass on a stronger business to the next generation.

Family member Charlotte Brandes, Chair of the Holding Company, explains “It is important that the family continues to uphold the values that Dad instilled in Reliance. His personal values and ethics complemented his commercial vision, and he was also a great mentor. We recognise we are a knowledge rich engineering business and as a family we feel a responsibility to nurture, feed and grow it.” She continues “We believe in helping to develop the talent of the future through our established initiatives, the Engineering Apprenticeship Scheme being one example. This was introduced to provide young people with an opportunity to start a career in engineering, enabling them to gain their core foundation skills and then providing them with access to various roles throughout the business. Over 60 years later it’s still going strong, with over a quarter of our workforce apprentice trained.” Reliance now typically takes on six apprentices a year and have achieved their goal of 10% of the workforce in apprenticeship, enabling them to meet requirements for new skills, replace retirees and facilitate growth.

Charlotte adds “We continue to recognise the benefits the business can gain from bringing young people in, even on a short-term basis such as a student work experience placement. They come with enthusiasm and energy, and in an ever-changing and developing technology-led world, they bring new techniques and knowledge. In return we can offer them a taster of a commercial, working environment that often helps shape their future career path.”

University Sandwich Placements

Reliance has relationships with many universities, locally and nationally, offering students the opportunity of a placement during their degree course or gap year. These can prove very beneficial to students, allowing them to put their academic learning into practice in a real working environment. In fact in some instances, this can lead to them securing permanent employment at the end of their studies.

One such instance is a Cambridge Undergraduate engineer who came to Reliance on a summer placement recently. Reliance’s Technical Director, Ian Laidler, who has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Cambridge University Engineering Department explains “He was literally thrown in at the deep end, working alongside the engineering team supporting them during our main holiday period. He returned to Reliance to do his second year placement, and with the knowledge he’d gained over the previous summer, was perfectly placed to pick up and run with some of the smaller projects with some guidance. His skills and knowledge enabled him to develop quickly and, working alongside our engineers, he became an integral part of quite a large project. We were incredibly impressed by his ability and what he brought to the business and consequently decided to sponsor his final year project. I am delighted that he has now taken up a permanent role at Reliance as Design Engineer.”

Ian adds “Having engineering students in the business at various stages of their studies is tremendously beneficial. They come with new skills and a different way of looking at things. This is great for our engineers as it gets them to think and consider different approaches to some of the challenges they face. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting some really talented individuals over the years, some of whom we’ve been lucky enough to employ at the end of the process. This whole aspect of experiencing and nurturing these young people has a really positive impact on helping shape our future recruitment planning.”

Whilst many of the placement opportunities are focused around engineering students, Reliance are keen to ensure they don’t miss out on the non-engineering talent also.

The recent appointment of a graphic designer into the Marketing Team was the result of a successful placement from The University of Huddersfield. The student, who spent the third year of her BA in Graphic Design at Reliance, impressed the team with her design skills and the fresh approach she brought, and having kept in touch during the final year of her studies, was offered a full-time position.

Industry University Placements

These differ from the traditional style university sandwich placements in that they are usually specific to a particular industry sector and are funded by either the University or the Government.

Africa Smith de Diego recently completed a short placement at Reliance as part of a Government funded Translate: Me Secondment Scheme. The scheme aims to connect its academic base with industry. Africa, a PhD student at the CDT in Tissue Engineering & Regenerative Medicine at the University of Leeds, spent a day a week over an eight week period, working with Reliance’s Life Science team.

Africa’s specific aim during her placement was to learn more about the pathway to commercialisation of a life science medical device, how the departments responsible for each of these stages are co-ordinated and how to get clients interested in these services.

In return, Reliance were able to tap into Africa’s academic scientific knowledge. She prepared and delivered a training presentation for the Engineering and Sales team members ‘An Introduction to Cell Biology and Tissue Engineering’, helping them to gain a better understanding of the biological challenges that impact medical device designs.

The placement allowed Africa to gain an insight into how Reliance operates and acknowledges it has reaffirmed her decision to pursue a career in industry as an engineer responsible for translating research into commercial products.

Another example of this type of Industry specific funding placement was a recently completed two year KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnership) Programme, jointly funded by Innovate UK and Reliance. Designed to help businesses improve their competitiveness and productivity, the funding contributed to a KTP Associate from the University of Huddersfield working on-site, under the joint supervision of Reliance and the University’s Business School.

The KTP Associate, a French engineer who specialised in manufacturing and business improvement, worked with Reliance to develop their CI (Continuous Improvement) programme, helping to bring together academic research and industry practice. Her aim being, to ensure the latest business management and manufacturing techniques were incorporated into the company’s strategies for delivering high quality, specialist manufacturing.

Summer Placements

Reliance have worked hard over the years to develop strong links with local schools and colleges. Whilst this is predominantly to promote the Apprenticeship Training Scheme, they are also keen to highlight the opportunity of undertaking a summer placement. These short placements provide young people with a taste of working life and are often instrumental in helping them make decisions about their future career path. 

One such example is 17 year old Sam Mannion, currently studying A levels at Huddersfield New College. Sam, unsure about what he wanted to do in the future, but recognising the benefits having some work experience under his belt would provide, contacted Reliance to see if they would let him spend his summer holidays working there.

Over the course of the summer he worked in the Sales and Compliance teams, before spending his final two weeks documenting engineering components for a new tooling system in the Operations team.

Sam comments “I really enjoyed working at Reliance. It gave me a taste for what real life work is. It did challenge my brain at times, but I feel more confident now and somehow more responsible. The team were really friendly and welcoming and took the time to properly explain what I needed to do and why. This summer has definitely helped me to clarify my future. I wasn’t sure whether I should go to University or do an Apprenticeship. I’ve now decided that I would like to do an Engineering Apprenticeship with a view to doing an office-based engineering role at the end of it. I will definitely consider doing this at Reliance too when the time comes.”

Andrew Wright, Reliance’s Managing Director, concludes “As all the above examples show, there is benefit to both Reliance and the young people by having a set of ways for them to see what we do. They get first hand industry experience, and we, as a business, upskill from their knowledge, skills and passion for their subject.  At Reliance we feel it is an employer’s responsibility to train the next generation. If we expect others to do it for us, we will fall even further behind in productivity. The UK manufacturing mindset has not shouldered this responsibility for a generation due to lack of ambition for the sector.  The challenges of global competition and climate change will require technological solutions which can only be found by those who educate for the future.”


# UK engineering facing skills crisis: where are the jobs? – Article published by Randstand 15/02/2018

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